What monks and college students have in common
February 2, 2017
Filed under Opinion
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In an environment where students eat together, go to class together and sleep together, tensions can get high and patience will be tested. Saint Benedict instructs, “if you have a dispute with someone, make peace with them before the sun goes down.”
While rereading a translation of “The Rule of Saint Benedict,” one cannot help but realize its timelessness. Written in sixth century Italy by Saint Benedict, the rule is an intricate guide to life in a monastery. It sets up the hierarchy of the leadership, how and when meals are eaten, when the monks gather for prayer and even how they are arranged to sleep. From the fall of Rome until modern times, men and women of faith have renounced the world and gone to live in monasteries, and “The Rule of Saint Benedict” still serves as their authoritative guide to daily life.
This handbook for monasticism, which is the most medieval of institutions, may seem alien at first. The life of a monk is a frugal existence, since the rule declares that “idleness is the enemy of the soul.”
Monks rise as early as 2 a.m. to perform their morning prayers, and then they proceed to do manual labor or academic work. Throughout the day, they periodically come back together in the choir of the abbey church to engage prayer which takes place in the form of chants and recitations of scripture. This cycle continues until they go to bed as early as 7 p.m.
This strict daily existence is strange and foreign to a majority of modern people, but any reader of the rule will soon realize that this thick pamphlet is not just a guide to monastic life; it is more generally a guide to communal life and therefore, a guide to college life.
There are obviously some outdated suggestions which are outlined in the rule. For example, the advice that “monks should sleep clothed and girded with belts or a cord; and they should remove their knives, lest they accidentally cut themselves in their sleep,” may not seem necessary since everyone learns in FS101 not to sleep with weaponry. But do not be fooled, the rule is exceptionally applicable to Allegheny.
For instance, the next time someone in the gym is obnoxiously slamming weights amidst grunts and heavy breathing, one may kindly refer them to the chapter on humility, which states: “The seventh step of humility is that a man not only admits with his tongue but is also convinced in his heart that he is inferior to all.”
The next time security comes around knocking on doors, one may simply flip to chapter 39 which explains: “We read that monks should not drink wine at all, but since the monks of our day cannot be convinced of this, let us agree to drink moderately.” Then allow the officer to see that the rule specifically prescribes half a bottle of wine a day per individual.
If one does not comply with quiet hours, they can be reminded of chapter 42 which says: “Monks should diligently cultivate silence at all times, but especially at night.”
But beyond merely reminding the monks of basic daily tasks, the times of meals and when the calls for daily prayers are, in the words of Rev. Timothy Fry, “a humane approach to personal relationships.”
On a college campus that is highly politicized and has over a hundred separate organizations that overlap and coexist, it would be wise to remember line 68 of chapter 4, “do not love quarreling; shun arrogance.”
Allegheny is a place where community is highly stressed and serves as a point of pride for the institution. It is a major reason many students choose to come to this quaint brick village. In light of that shared purpose and mutual responsibility to each other, chapter 34 reminds us that, “whoever needs less should thank God, and not be distressed, but whoever needs more should feel humble because of his weakness, not self-important because of the kindness shown him. In this way all members will be at peace.”
A college campus is a fast-paced environment, made only faster by the onslaught of breaking news and messages coming in on phones and laptops at all hours. Headlines and emails can overwhelm and deadlines can creep in, but amidst all the chaos, there is no advice more abstract than, “Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die. Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do.”
It may seem odd at first to read that if a monk messes up while reciting a psalm he must publicly apologize as he prostrates before the abbot and his brothers, and that “children, however, are to be whipped for such a fault.” This is obviously not practiced today, but if you visit a monastery, you will find that chapter 53 is still followed.
It reads: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.”